Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
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Monday, January 10, 2011COVER by Jack Ketchum
Seeing as how my partner bought the remainder of Jack Ketchum's back catalogue before the Leisure house of cards fell down as a Christmas gift, I now find myself in the same situation as with Brian Keene. Lots of books to read and so little time! I had Cover on the shelf for a month or so before Christmas, so this had to be the first in a run of Ketchum.
Lee is a Vietnam veteran haunted by the violence and horror he's seen. Now back home, he lives out in the woods as protection from other people. His flashbacks are too vivid, and he can be back in the jungles hunting VC in the blink of an eye. When his wife, exhausted from this way of life and wary of their own own safety, takes his son and moves out of the forest, this leaves Lee alone with his dog, Pavlov, and his nightmares.
Kelsey is a successful novelist who takes his friends on a camping trip, a matter complicated by his wife, a literary agent, and his lover, a supermodel. Both women know of the arrangement and have developed a close friendship. There's also a photographer along for the ride to capture the trip for a major magazine, Kelsey's own agent, and his friend, a playwright.
Problem is that they've chosen to camp in Lee's territory, and he's been looking for the enemy a long time. Now he has one.
As with The Girl Next Door, Ketchum tries to inject a certain social conscience into the horror on display here. With Girl, it was the case of Sylvia Likens, a crime that went dually unnoticed or accepted among the local community. Here we have the horrors of Vietnam on display.
The character of Lee, in my opinion, is simply a shell for the violence. His actual personality only comes through in moments with his dog. There's very little there, you see. Normally, this would be a big problem, but Ketchum proves a point here. Lee is a shell because that's all that's left: a man who only has his training, his memories and his nightmares. This makes the onslaught vastly more believable. He shows no remorse, as he has none. The war has made him into a killing machine.
The characterisation mostly comes into play with Kelsey and his entourage, in particular the model Michelle. We have subplots involving the love triangle between Kelsey, Michelle and the wife Caroline. While this gives some depth and attempts to make us care for the fates of the characters as they enter the woods, this leads to a very slow first half. The only action present is Lee's VC flashbacks, which are brilliantly done. As for our humble good guys, I wanted them to get to the woods already!
After the first kill, the action is none stop all the way in typical Ketchum fashion. But again, the violence is more measured and calculated (Rambo as opposed to Rambo 3). You won't find much 'psycho running around with a machete' action here, but there are accurately researched traps and army maneuvers with just the same result. Blood is shed, but in a more realistic way.
Dare I say it, this book did not read like a Ketchum book. While his fluid writing is there, and his wonderful ability to paint a scene, especially in the great outdoors, this just didn't feel like a Ketchum book. I've had a few days to chew on this one since finishing. I wouldn't call it a horror novel. This is more a heavy on the violence action novel, similar to the feeling I got after reading Shaun Hutson's White Ghost.
Certainly worth a look, but there are more traditional horror novels out there if that's what you want. Should you require a change (but still like a bit of splatter) then this might be a great choice.